Do not be unstable.
Normally when we experience good fortune we become overly excited and dance around in an absurd manner, and when we experience bad fortune we become completely depressed very quickly. This precept advises us not to behave like that.
The fundamental reason why we are unstable is because we still believe there is such a thing as “an externally good” thing and “an externally bad” thing. In reality, nothing is good or bad from its own side, rather they become so in dependence upon the mind with which we engage them. When we engage things with our mind preoccupied by the eight worldly concerns, then of course some external things are seen to be ‘good’ and others are seen to be ‘bad.’ But we don’t have to view things in this way, in fact it is advisable that we don’t. Why? Because if we have such an outlook we can’t be happy all of the time. We will go up, we will go down. If instead we view all situations through the optic of the opportunity they afford us to develop our inner qualities, such as love, compassion, patience, wisdom, etc., then there is no such thing as a “bad” situation. Every situation is equally good, just in different ways. This is true freedom, the ability to go anywhere with anybody doing anything, and it is all equally good.
The foundation of mental stability is the mind of contentment. Normally, we always feel like we are lacking something or that we need something in particular. This mind makes us unhappy all of the time, even when we have pretty much everything. We may long for a particular job, finally get it, and once we have it, we see the next horizon and can’t be happy with what we have. We are always looking for a better home, a better job, a better partner, a better smart phone, whatever. This mind of perpetual discontent is particularly destructive to our spiritual training. No matter how many instructions we may receive, we never feel like we have what we need. We always feel like we are lacking something, so we are always searching but never finding. With such an outlook, we never get down to serious practice.
The mind of contentment is actually very easy to develop: simply choose to be happy about what you do have, not unhappy about what you don’t have. Everything can always be better than it is, and everything can also be much, much worse. So if we have a mind of discontent, we will always be unhappy no matter what we have. There will always be a basis for thinking how things could be better. In contrast, if we can learn how to be happy with what we have, and this becomes our new mental habit, then we can be happy in every situation. Every situation from its own side is equally neutral, it is our attitude towards it that determines whether we are satisfied or not.
One of the most liberating mental states a living being can experience is the mind that feels it lacks nothing. If practitioners of old could be content with a cave, why can we not be content with our modern apartments? No matter how much or how little we have, if we experience these things with the mind of contentment, we will always enjoy everything. It is particularly empowering to realize in our spiritual life that we lack nothing. When we feel we lack something we need to attain enlightenment, we don’t fully engage with our practice and we spend our time trying to plug the perceived gap. But when we realize we lack nothing and indeed have everything we need, then the only thing that remains to do is start practicing. When you think about it, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have created the karma to literally lack nothing we need to attain enlightenment. All the conditions have been gathered together, and if we push through, our enlightenment is guaranteed. Our appreciation for the infinite kindness of our spiritual guide for providing us all of these conditions literally pushes us to tears. Our effort becomes effortless.
To not be unstable also explains how we can be of real benefit to people. Virtually everyone around us is riding the wild waves of samsara, being buffeted up and down by their changing circumstances. As a result, nobody has any reliable poles of support that they can hang on to to provide some stability in their life. A Kadampa finds their stability within their own mind. Because they know how to keep their mind stable, they are able to remain stable and calm in all circumstances. When everyone else is freaking out, they remain unflappable. Such a person is a real resource in any community, especially when times become particular chaotic or troublesome. We become an immutable vajra in the world, unmoved, unchanged, undisturbed no matter what happens. People know that if they remain close to us, then they can benefit from the stability of our mind. This stability acts like the calm in the eye of a hurricane, a safe anchorage undisturbed by the waves. This is in many ways the greatest gift we can provide others.